The US has repeated its call to Beijing to engage in a dialogue with the Dalai Lama, denying suggestions it was pulling punches so as not to jeopardise President W George Bush's visit to China.
"We are very concerned about the situation in Tibet," State Department spokesman Tom Casey said on Monday drawing attention to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice's call on Saturday to Beijing to urge restraint in its response to protesters against Chinese rule in Tibet.
"And we have consistently called for engagement and dialogue and encouraged the Chinese Government to engage in a substantive conversation with the Dalai Lama directly or through representatives so that the issues involving Tibet can be resolved," he said.
"That's been a consistent US policy not only of this administration, but of several others," Casey said contesting suggestions the US is pulling its punches with China over the Tibet issue because of Beijing's considerable economic and commercial clout.
"So I think our views on this have been quite clear and we are going to do what we can to encourage that process to move forward and again, encourage restraint on the part of the Chinese."
"But I do think that this is an issue that is of longstanding in China and it's one that's going to have to be resolved internally between the parties," he added.
Asked if the US had engaged with the Chinese recently, Casey said the American ambassador and the mission in Beijing "have spoken about this to a variety of Chinese officials and continue to be in discussions with them about this."
"This certainly is a subject that comes up regularly in our broad conversations with the Chinese," he said.
In response to a question whether an overly harsh reaction to the Tibet situation could jeopardize Bush's trip to China, Casey referred the reporters to the White House but said: "Again, we are responding to this set of incidents in a way that we think is appropriate and consistent with longstanding US policy."
Disputing suggestions that the State Department Human Rights Report by not citing China as one of the worst violators had given a green light to China to continue repressing dissent, he asserted: "We aren't pulling any punches."
Both the 2007 and 2008 reports mentioned that China has a poor record on human rights, he said, "so we aren't pulling any punches. We've been very clear what our concerns are. There is no statutory list of worst offenders."
At the White House, recalling Rice's call to Beijing on Saturday, to exercise restraint in dealing with the protests, Press Secretary Dana Perino said: "We've urged an immediate end to the violence so that the people can get back to living a better life."
"The administration has certainly been in touch with the Chinese, and we've called on them," she said. "We're just very concerned about the overall long-term prospects of it. So we've been in touch with them," she said when asked if Bush was concerned about the situation.
Meanwhile, Howard L Berman, Democratic chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee strongly condemned "the violence that has rocked Tibet over the past several days, and urged the Chinese government to end its brutal crackdown on dissent."
"Beijing should immediately enter into direct negotiations with the Dalai Lama to bring peace to Tibet and to preserve the unique religious and cultural heritage of the Tibetan people," he demanded in a statement.
Like the administration, he too suggested that Beijing "should have entered into direct talks with the Dalai Lama years ago to promote cultural and religious autonomy in Tibet and to pave the way for the Dalai Lama's return."
"The Chinese should use this crisis as an opportunity to re-evaluate their ill-advised Tibet policies and enter into a productive dialogue with the Dalai Lama," Berman said.